Compassionate psychologist who followed his own drumbeat

Obituary: Dermot Ryan’s life was driven by a sharp academic mind and a musical soul

Dr Dermot Ryan, clinical psychologist. Born: August 3rd, 1968, Died: May 9th, 2017

A consummate scholar and accomplished jazz drummer, clinical psychologist Dr Dermot Ryan melded his sharp academic mind and clinical practice with his musical soul to enrich many lives, both personally and professionally.

A native and resident of Lucan, Dr Ryan commuted between the Co Dublin suburb and Mozzate, Italy, where his wife and two young boys live.

Working for the HSE from 2013, he provided neuropsychological assessments and psychotherapeutic services for older adults in counties Laois and Offaly. The fact that his work also involved training and mentoring aspirant psychologists ensured his continued connection with the academic world. By all accounts, as a teacher he was in the real sense an educator, who thoughtfully expanded horizons for others just as he constantly did for himself. Calmness, understatement, high standards, a deep sensitivity and dry humour were hallmarks.

While his 2013 doctorate examined the psychological adjustment of family members awaiting and following diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, his earlier PhD research (2006) broke new ground in Ireland in its focus on the nature and kinds of distress that face refugees and asylum seekers, an extension of his native sympathy for those struggling to cope with adversity.


Lead author

While teaching in UCD, he was the lead author in a number of articles on this topic, with co-authors Prof Ciarán Benson and Prof Barbara Dooley. His research in this area has been cited in almost 200 other publications.

Dr Ryan was a founding member of the Culture and Ethnic Diversity special interest group in the Psychological Society of Ireland, and worked with Jennifer Rylands in assessing and promoting cultural competence in psychological service provision.

The youngest of six children born to Mary and George Ryan, retired bridge correspondent of The Irish Times, Dermot's passion for music ensured he was the resident drummer at the annual song contests in his first alma mater, NUI Maynooth. Along with his friend Pat Bayne, he briefly considered becoming a priest, having attended Salesian College, Celbridge, for his secondary school education, but the distractions of secular life soon put paid to that for both young men. It was while studying in Maynooth he met his girlfriend for a time, Annie McCarrick, the American woman whose disappearance has remained an unsolved case for 24 years. Dermot kept in touch with Annie's mother, Nancy, for many years after her disappearance.

Love of his life

It was another erasmus student, Italian native Barbara Borghi, who would become the love of his life, his wife from October 1993 and mother to their two sons, Patrick (15) and Liam (13).

From an early age his love of percussion meant that no object was safe from his rhythmic soul and beating hands: from table-tops to bar stools. A pupil of the late Johnny Wadham, aka "The Wad", throughout his teenage years, Dermot always recalled his unbridled excitement at being driven by George, his father, to the Cork Jazz Festival to see his hero, Buddy Rich.

Later, during his UCD years, he played with a group of psychologists called Just a Cigar. He was always at ease with complicated jazz rhythms, whether he was laying “four on the floor” in a blues-rock combo, or adding flourishes with brushes to an acoustic set.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Borghi, sons Patrick and Liam; his parents, George and Mary; his sisters, Áine, Breda, Claire, Eithne, and brother, Gearóid.